Sunday, June 30, 2013

A lazy summer day

It's a summer day, so hot and lazy that I want nothing more than to be still and quiet, and take it all in. I did take out my camera for a couple of shots, just to share with you.
 This fig tree was mauled so badly by wild boar last year that I thought it was dead, but amazingly, it made it - and with receiving recycled shower water, it all burst out in new green branches. I do hope it pulls through summer unharmed, because I just saw the most enormous wild boar beneath our verandah today, in broad daylight (wish I had the camera on hand).
 The valley is all scorched and yellow, and the sky is hazy from the heat, but there's almost always a lovely breeze on our front porch. 
And here is the improvised anti-mosquito fish tank I mentioned a couple of posts ago; it sure was a very satisfying project to make, but I'm still not convinced as to whether or not it was a good idea. The fish might eat mosquito eggs, but the watter attracts enormous wasps. 

I hope you are all enjoying summer (or winter, if you happen to be in the southern hemisphere)!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Problem

Dear readers,

Someone hijacked my blog URL, as some of you probably have noticed. It automatically redirects to an irrelevant site. I am currently working on solving the problem; do wish me success. I will try to keep you updated.

Thanks for everything,

Anna

UPDATE: Problem solved. For now. I recommend everyone to increase as much as possible the security of your Google accounts.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A chicken loft

Just thought I'd share with you this little project my husband tackled last Friday. 

Until now, our chickens have been nesting on the ground, and things were fine; but recently, a broody hen nesting in a lemongrass clump lost her clutch of eggs, presumably to a snake. This prompted my husband to construct this very simple chicken loft, near the roof of the goat house (where our chickens prefer to spend most of their time nowadays).

It's just a wooden crate that was given to us by a friend (who knew we'll find some use for it :o)), secured with the help of some nails and a salvaged metal frame acting as a shelf. A wooden frame leading to the crate is propped up to act as a chicken ladder, and a nesting box is placed inside. 

The hen who suffered the loss of her eggs seems to like this new place much more, and obliged us by laying there yesterday. I'm hopeful that she will have time to go broody again and hatch more chicks by the end of summer. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Just in case you have been wondering...

Just in case you have been wondering what we've been up to lately... 

Summer rolls on, and with the scorching heat of the last week, we have to spend much of our day inside. Shira is learning how to stitch, and I am devouring Teach Your Own by John Holt. The grass is dry yellow and brown, grapes are ripening on the vine, and we are eagerly awaiting figs and carobs.



Also been reading these lovely articles, during spare minutes:

This couple's story of homesteading and a self-sufficient life.

How to build a natural swimming pool - I'm sure my husband would love something like that; if not as a pool, then on a smaller scale as a fish pond. We currently have a plastic container (actually, an old baby bathtub) outside, with water plants and fish. It's supposed to act as a natural mosquito trap - mosquitoes lay their eggs in the water, and the fish eat the eggs and larvae. We also have a "cleaner fish" to keep the container clean.

Speaking of mosquitoes, here is an article about natural mosquito repellents. It doesn't mention the fish option, though.

And, a not very appetizing but very practical and down-to-earth article about unclogging drains without using harsh chemicals. We've had several instances of clogged pipes since we moved here, and I'm proud to say that I (with a heavy dose of instructions from my husband over the phone) acted as the resident plumber with good success. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Great Replacement

"No matter how hard you try," a well-meaning person told me some time ago, with the air of delivering an eye-opening statement, "you will never be able to replace a kindergarten teacher for your children." 

I was rather short-tempered, but I wanted to be kind. I also knew that a long explanation would be futile, and would lead to yet another argument. What I said was simply, "it is the kindergarten teacher who will never be able to replace a mother."

But going back to the original statement... two things are implied here:

1. Small children need preschool/kindergarten, and the preschool/kindergarten program is without doubt the absolute ministry-of-education-regulated best. 

2. If you teach/keep your children at home, you must be trying to imitate the preschool/kindergarten/school setting, with yourself acting as the teacher. 

Even people who are prepared - very cautiously - to admit that maybe learning at home isn't a very crazy idea, are most reassured by the sight of children with workbooks, working with timetables and being graded for their work. Because of course, without daily drills and grading, there is no learning... right?

Last week, a mother confided in me that she is going to put her 18-months-old child (her only child, so far) in daycare, even though she doesn't work outside the home, because several family members insist that the boy needs more "stimulation" and "socialization"; since she looked so obviously dejected when she spoke of it, and since I was certain she knows my opinion already, I allowed myself to gently say that as far as I can see, a 6-hour-long daily period in a daycare center would be overstimulating, tiring, and overall pointless for her son.When we are talking of a baby who can't even speak properly yet, all the needed "socialization" is covered by the daily walk to the playground where he can see and interact with other people.

Since women entered the work force en masse, the question of what to do with the young children became highly relevant in almost every family. A home can be left alone, but not a child - and so day care centers, preschools and kindergartens became a widespread solution. This is now so normal that a mother who is raising her children at home is allegedly "replacing" a preschool teacher. Let us not forget it is the other way around.

The period of having small children at home is very intense, physically and emotionally demanding; it is also finite. It may last only a few years if you have just one child, or a few decades if you have many, but either way it will come to an end some day. Some day, perhaps all too soon, I will not have anyone barging into my  room shouting, "Peepee!" - nor will I need to interrupt an adult conversation in order to say, "please get your finger out of your nose". Life will be calmer, perhaps, and more rational - and a little duller as well.

So let us, mothers, savor this time with our children, and know that we are exactly where we are needed at the moment, and that no one - no one - can replace us. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The system doesn't work

I just finished reading How Children Fail by John Holt last night, and it made such a tremendous impression on me that I wasn't even able to choose a few quotes I especially liked... it's just a very informative, eye-opening book, and even though the many particular examples of backward thinking in schoolchildren can be tedious to read, I would still highly recommend it to anyone who is interested to know how children learn, how they think, and how they feel. 

I think I have told before that socially, I suffered much all through elementary and middle school; what saved me from being utterly miserable was that academically, I was a success. It was mostly because I was such a bookworm I couldn't resist reading even my schoolbooks, and generally knew them by heart before the school year began. So, I came to class not to learn, but to show off my knowledge, and thus to get the confidence boost I needed so badly. I was a docile child and generally did what I was told, which, combined with me always knowing the right answer, made me the teacher's pet in most classes, or the class nerd, put it however you wish.  

And so, not as a student who failed, but as a "model" student, someone who had gone through all the steps successfully; as someone who scored excellently on her high school tests and got into a good university with a scholarship, and earned a degree with high grades, I say - the system doesn't work. It doesn't work for those who fail, and it doesn't work for those who succeed. Furthermore, it does a great disservice to the supposedly "good" students by making them believe they know everything because, after a long drill, they got  a "perfect" exam paper. It doesn't work in first grade, or tenth grade, or even, mostly, in college. It doesn't and cannot work, because when you need to control/occupy/evaluate a lot of children at once, you need standartized papers and exams and scores, and a regular artificial environment that has little to do with the  real world.

I do have to say that I had some very good teachers, who enhanced my interest in learning first and foremost by their personality, their genuine humanity, and their friendship. They did good, and above all did no harm, because they were such good people, not such good teachers. The system itself, with its classes, timetables, lines, scores, report cards, its mindless discipline or mindless lack thereof, its bullying and its peer pressure was so destructive that I can only be thankful for not coming out of it more damaged than I am.

Once, years ago, I tutored a 15-year-old girl in math; she was the eldest child in her family, and I was struck by her kindness, politeness, responsibility and patience towards her younger siblings and her duties at home. But as soon as we sat down to "study", she would become dull and listless and - I have no other word for it - stupid. I knew she wasn't truly stupid, of course, and I realized her dullness has more to do with boredom than anything else, but neither I nor she had the power to break the system. At the end of the year, she passed her exam successfully, which was celebrated by both of us, but when all was said and done all those  rows of numbers and letters meant as little to her as they did in the beginning of the school year. As far as she was concerned, they were still useless, but it was required of her to go through some paces and, like a trained dog, she now could do the trick she once failed. Perhaps this made her school experience a little less miserable, but did this in any way enhance her learning? Of course not.

Do I have sureproof answers? No. But I am even more convinced of what I have proclaimed for a long time: that what we consider "normal", even good, is in reality deeply flawed, useless at best, and permanently damaging at worst. I am comforted by the thought that we human beings have an amazing ability to recover - our mental capacity among other things. Many who fail at school later become successful, intelligent adults. 

I am certainly going to read more works by John Holt.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What I've been up to lately

Summer is at its peak now, and longer days mean later bedtime and therefore, much more action packed into each day. Life rolls on here, with its many interesting activities such as baking, cooking, reading, taking care of the various critters, trips to the playgrounds, day trips, visiting with friends, and many other simple things we all love.

* I've been enjoying this lovely gift from my husband: a set of beautiful flower-patterened mugs. I've wanted just such mugs for a while, but never got around to mentioning it... and so, you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was so discover my dream set among the week's shopping bags. And yesterday, I got a matching-patterned tablecloth as well! Don't they look just perfect together? 

* I'm just now discovering John Holt's writings, and greatly enjoying them. Almost all of his books are downloadable for free in PDF form, a fact of which I took advantage. 

I hope you all had a lovely weekend, and are continuing on to a wonderful week! 

With warm friendship,

Mrs. T

Thursday, June 6, 2013

In gentle hands

I had read a bedtime story to the girls, and enjoyed the precious experience of them falling asleep to the sound of my voice, right beside me (an on me). After a long, full day, is there anything sweeter than drifting to sleep to a much-loved story?

I stopped talking when I noticed their eyes were closed. I shut the book and listened to their breathing, and closed my eyes for a moment, marveling once again at how wonderful it is that there are so many people in the world, so many shapes and sizes of families, so many different walks of life - and yet we all have so much in common.

Another time, Shira asked me to recite a poem about a balloon. "But I don't know any such poem," I said, perlexed. "A poem," she insisted. I leaned back, closed my eyes and improvised. Her smile was better than winning any poetry contest. I don't think I ever came up with a poem so fast before!

It can be hard some days. So, so hard. Sometimes it feels like our lives consist of nothing but whining, bickering, pouting, and a cycle of repetitive jobs. Sometimes I stop and say, "I don't know what to do next." But then a smile breaks through like a ray of sunshine, and by its light I see the true beauty of what I am experiencing now, and what will never return again. I see my children hugging each other, and I see their faces shining with enthusiasm when they discover an intricately woven spider web or a mouse in the storage shed (eek!). "Abba bought us a mouse?! Cute little mouse!"

This fuzzy little one is held in the gentle hands of my 4-year-old daughter. Left to his own devices he might topple over and fall, but those hands on either side of him keep him safe, and he doesn't even know it. We all, too, are held in Gentle Hands, even if we don't know it, or doubt it, or even deny it. May I, and you, and everyone find peace in this knowledge today and in all the days of our lives. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Some lovely reads

I have discovered two treasures in my recent Mother Earth News newsletter:

The first article, titled Slow Is Beautiful. I didn't have much time to read when I saw the article and so I began skimming through it, but then I thought how ironic it is that I'm rushing to read something written about slowing down, and I made a break and returned to it later, with a cup of coffee and more leisure. It was such a pleasant and enjoyable read. 

Sometimes I feel I'm getting too frazzled, and then I stop and tell myself, hey, what is the point of living in such a quiet, retired place, of staying home with my children and cutting down on time-consuming activities, if I allow other things to take over? In this day and age, a stay-at-home Mom can feel as busy as a worker that pulls 12 hours a day in some company... and so slowing down really means slowing down. It means that at least during part of my day, I don't feel as though I'm rushing to get everything done on time. 

The second article is about disappearing bees. I do not keep bees, but I found it rather disturbing. I have always liked observing bees, and never saw them as a particular threat... although I do take care to give them their space, as I've never been stung and so don't know if I'm bee-sensitive or not. And oh, do I love honey. Friends of ours now keep hives here, and I can't wait for the time when I can buy some natural honey from them. 

And, since I reserve the right to write whatever I want in random sequence here on the blog, I thought I might tell you about a new favorite side dish we have here: heads of garlic baked whole. I drizzle some olive oil on them and sprinkle them with salt, and they come out very tender. After they are cooled a bit the cloves can be easily squeezed out and even spread on bread. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Answering their questions

I've had this in the drafts folder for a while now, but only now getting to post it... 

I have a theory which perhaps may sound a little far-fetched: by simply taking the time and effort to try and provide insightful answers to the questions our children ask us, we are helping them complete a large part of their education. 

By doing so, we are achieving several things:

1. The children find that they can ask questions about anything in the world, which is in itself a fuel for further learning. 

2. They also learn that they are important, that their questions aren't brushed aside, but discussed with interest - and a 4-year-old can ask very interesting questions.

 3. Everything becomes an educational opportunity, because little children will ask about many things we take for granted, from Who made the stars to how is it that vinegar can dissolve an egg's shell.

Of course, as this kind of free learning emerges spontaneously, it needs a good deal of unscheduled leisurely time to just hang around, watch and observe, and ask questions. Naturally, sometimes we are busy, and none of us can be available always, all the time... but when we are never available, when we are so overwhelmingly busy that we do things on autopilot even when we are there, it leaves a void in many things - our children's educational opportunities among them.

Around here, the school bus leaves around 7:30 and comes back around 16:00. I have spoken to many stay-at-home mothers who, as of themselves, would love to have their children at home for more hours in a day, and genuinely wonder why a 6-year-old needs an 8-hour school day. Preschoolers in government-funded institutions now have an obligatory extension of their time at preschool until 14:00; such reforms are accepted with relief by the majority of working parents, but the minority of mothers who would like to take their children home early aren't allowed to do so, unless under special circumstances (of course, things may be different in private kindergartens, but not everyone can afford them). 

In Israel, it's really pretty much black and white. Either you send your child to preschool/school, or you don't  - and homeschooling is a very controversial choice here. Once the child is enrolled in school, most of their waking hours belong to it - extending to hours spent at home, because there's also homework to be done. And the lengthening of the school day is painted as an "educational reform" which is in the children's very best interests - disregarding things such as attention span and effectiveness of learning, which by necessity are reduced with the longer school hours. Thus, instead of a concentrated and effective school time, we get a longer time in which learning is diluted, causing boredom and frustration.

***
Some pictures from the ongoing "learning" around here:
 Two eggs; one is a regular store-bought egg, the other is an egg from the same pack that had been soaked in vinegar until its shell flaked off, and later immersed in water with food coloring. It can bounce on the table like a rubber ball, but be careful because it can also burst!
And one of the Brahma chicks that hatched yesterday, sitting on Shira's lap.